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Police cells ‘no place for the mentally ill’
DORSET’S top police officials have vowed to commit more resources to mentally ill offenders if backed by the NHS.
Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill and Chief Constable Debbie Simpson are calling for change to ensure that fewer people with mental health disorders are detained in police custody as a “place of safety”.
And Mr Underhill, who has campaigned for the cause for almost a year, said “police cells are no place for the mentally ill”.
His vow to fight for better provision comes after Home Secretary Theresa May said in a speech to the Superintendants Association Conference that police officers across the country spend one fifth of their hours on duty dealing with people who are mentally ill.
Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 states that under certain special circumstances a safe place could be construed as a police cell, where a mental health patient may be held for up to 72 hours. “I will never accept that a police cell is a suitable place for a person in total crisis,” he said.
“Both myself and the Chief Constable are prepared to put more police resources on this issue if NHS Dorset will meet us half way.
“The NHS in this county needs to help us arrange triage centres, which we are very keen on creating.”
Mr Underhill said the NHS needs to provide enough suitable provision across Dorset and the country.
He added: “In relation to people with mental health issues committing crime, Dorset is ahead of the game.
“We have mental health professionals working in our cell blocks to help support and assess those who are brought into custody. We must also accept that there is no benchmark and that forces across the country have different strategies in place to deal with mental health issues in custody. However, West Midlands Police and Leicestershire appear to lead the way in this area, with either triage on the street, designated NHS places of safety, or both.”
Liba Skachova, a support worker with mental health charity rethink, said: “In my personal opinion, I can see both sides.
“When people deteriorate rapidly, they can be dangerous to themselves and others. Police have the right to protect that individual and other people around. But 72 hours is a long amount of time, and being locked up can have a very bad impact on people with mental health problems.”
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